Full disclosure: This is the official Science of Strategy Institute version, written by our founder. The goal of our version is to give readers a better idea of what Sun Tzu wrote. In this sample, as in the entire book, we try to give the same weight to each phrase in the English as it has in the Chinese. We also try to translate the phrases as simply and directly as possible. We let the reader make his or her own assumptions about what Sun Tzu meant in terms of deeper meaning.
We do not create any false paragraphs or groupings of sentences. Instead we show each phrase as a line, as in a poem, and separate the block from the other blocks with a space as Sun Tzu did, making it a stanza—again as in English poetry.
Even in our stated goal of giving the reader insight into the original Chinese, we fall far short of capturing all the meanings in the original. The problem is that we offer only one-word English translations for each character. In reality, Chinese characters have an array of meanings that all play into interpreting the text. We originally tried to show all the different meanings in a character, but the character translation became unreadable. Instead, we tried to pick the meaning that fit best into the most common way that the line was translated. In cases where there are disagreements, we can only offer our humble opinion of what the best translation would be given the context and everything else Sun Tzu said.
This is the last stanza of Chapter 7, Armed Conflict.
The Chinese Text
|Without invitation right correct’s banner,||Do not entice the enemy when their ranks are orderly.|
|Do not attack hall hall of formation,||You must not attack when their formations are solid.|
|Here govern transform one also;||This is how you master adaptation.|
|Make use war’s method,||You must follow these military rules.|
High mound do not face,
|Do not take a position facing high ground.|
Back walls do not oppose,
|Do not oppose those with their backs to the wall.|
Pretend flee do not follow,
|Do not follow those who pretend to flee.|
Sharp soldiers do not attack,
|Do not attack the enemy's strongest men.|
Bait war do not feed,
|Do not swallow the enemy's bait.|
Returning home legion do not block,
|Do not block an army that is headed home.|
Encircling troops must watch-tower,
|Leave an escape route for a surrounded army.|
Poor pillage do not force,
|Do not press a desperate foe.|
Here use war’s method also.
|This is the art of war.|